PERHAPS THE most important part of bluffing is having your play tell a believable story, and a big factor in convincing an opponent to lay down his hand is betting like you mean it.
Today's hand from the World Series of Poker $10,000-buy-in main event involving colorful pro Gavin Smith provides an extreme example of what not to do.
With blinds at $50-$100, respected pro Ivan Demidov open-raised to $250 from under the gun. The player on the button called. From the big blind, Smith drew A-8 offsuit and called the additional $150. The flop came 3-A-J, two hearts, giving Smith top pair/weak kicker. He checked.
"It was raised preflop by Ivan, so if Ivan bets it, a couple of things could happen: I might just release it if it gets bet and called," said Smith, winner of a WSOP bracelet and World Poker Tour main event. "I have a fairly weak hand. I wanted to keep the pot small unless I flop really big. I'm probably going to call a high percentage of the time unless I hit two cards."
Demidov checked. The button bet $500. Smith called. Demidov folded. The turn came the 7 of diamonds. Smith checked, hoping to play pot control from out of position. The button also checked, which might indicate weakness or a move to trap.
The river came the 9 of clubs, missing the possible flush but filling a possible straight. Smith checked. "I don't want to play a big pot with that hand," said Smith, a pro from the Full Tilt Poker online site. "I definitely want to check-call on the river because there's a way better chance he'll bluff at this pot than he'll call me with a worse hand.
"On that river, I was calling any reasonable bet. If he made a ridiculous bet like $8,000 or $9,000, I wouldn't call, but even $1,500, I'd have called."
Remarkably, with position and facing an opponent showing weakness, the button bet only $100, the minimum. Smith made the obvious call and took the pot with his aces. His opponent flashed only the queen of spades.
"At that point, I think his bet is silly," Smith said. "It's pointless. I feel if you're going to bluff, you have to make a meaningful bluff. You have to go for it. I probably would have called him with just king-high just to see what he's doing. He had queen-high. It was silly. There was no point in my raising because he wasn't going to call it.
"I often say that when you bluff, you have to bluff with conviction. I think you're just giving your money away with a bet like that in that spot. When you're bluffing, ask yourself, 'What would I do if I had A-Q here?' Then bet it like that. These silly little bets don't do anything. I almost made it $200 as a joke, but I didn't want to make a mockery out of it."
Steve Rosenbloom is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the author of the book "The Best Hand I Ever Played." He can be reached at